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The trireme had made good progress, and I made a mental note as the ship glided smoothly into the dock, to reward the captain appropriately. The crew began to haul the gangplank into position, and I looked around at the buildings, even more impressive close up than they’d been from out in the Delta.

“Ready to disembark, Proconsul,” I heard, and I stepped onto the gangway. At the bottom, obviously waiting for me, were two covered sedan chairs with their attendant slaves, and in front of them a fat Egyptian, already perspiring in the midday heat. “Welcome, welcome,” he enthused, bowing as deeply as his bulk permitted.

I acknowledged his greeting. “And you are?”

“Amsi, my lord. I serve Pharaoh. I am sent to conduct you to your quarters, so that you can refresh yourself and rest. An audience is arranged for tomorrow after sundown — if your Excellency finds it convenient, that is?”

I nodded. A day to acclimatise would be no bad thing, and my political senses told me that the time was unlikely to be wasted. “Very good.”

“If you would step this way…”

A slave held open the curtain on the nearest sedan, and I took my seat. A few moments later I felt the chair rise smoothly, and I reflected that any slave permitted to bear important guests would quickly find himself missing a hand — or worse — if he so much as caused a drink to slop over the edge of its goblet.

The curtains obscured my view of our route, but clearly we were ascending from the waterside, and after about fifteen minutes the chair was lowered to the ground without a perceptible jar. I stepped back out into the light, finding the heat of the sun muted by a high fabric canopy. “The House of Ajnabi,” indicated Amsi. “Please, treat it as your home.”

He wheezed as he hauled his weight up the broad stone steps a pace behind me, and I wondered to myself whether Amsi would live long enough to enjoy the benefit of any intrigue he planned to invite me into. But he made it to the top of the steps without incident, and clapped his hands sharply three times.

In response to his summons, a young woman appeared, carrying a brass pitcher and with a towel draped over a bare forearm. She dropped briefly to one knee, then stood with her head bowed, clearly awaiting further instruction. Before Amsi spoke, I had time to notice that the garment the girl wore was flimsy to say the least, and I averted my eyes as best I could from the clearly-visible dark triangle between her thighs, and her small but shapely breasts protruding through the thin material.

“She will pour water on your hands,” explained Amsi, and I extended my arms, grateful for the coolness as the girl — still unnamed — tilted the pitcher. Her slim fingers were gentle as she used the towel, then she stepped back to wait for another command.

“She will bring food, and perform any other service you wish of her,” Amsi continued. “She understands your language, so I am sure you will be able to make your needs understood.”

His tone was heavy with meaning, and I looked at the girl in a new light, forcing myself to conclude that she was older than she looked. Slaves didn’t get a lot to eat, I rationalised, so they didn’t grow as much…

Amsi obviously took my silence as dissatisfaction. “If she is not to your taste, I can obtain others — more sophisticated, perhaps. Of course, that glory hole secrets porno will be expensive.”

I suppressed a chuckle. Surely this could only be a sideline for someone as powerful as Amsi — pimping for important visitors and taking a cut off the top.

“That won’t be required,” I replied. “Some decent wine, on the other hand…”

I extracted a middle-sized gold coin from my purse, causing the young woman’s eyes to widen, and pressed it into Amsi’s palm, getting a nod. “I will send it directly,” he promised.

He made his laboured way to the bottom of the steps, and the slaves bore him and the empty second sedan away. I turned back to the still-waiting slave girl. “Amsi says you will understand me. What is your name?”

She barely raised her eyes. “Charis, my master.”

I nodded. “Well, Charis, when we are alone you can call me ‘Timon’. Or if you forget, ‘sir’ will do.”

I hesitated. “Charis — not an Egyptian name?”

She shook her head. “They tell me my father was a Greek.”

I held back from digging further into her past — it was unlikely, I thought, to yield any surprises. “So, Charis, please show me this House of — Ajnabi, wasn’t it?”

“It means ‘foreigners’,” she explained. “Come.”

I followed her between fat-bellied pillars into a vaulted space. Clearly my hosts had gone to some trouble to make their foreign visitors comfortable; there were reclining couches, plants, fountains, and even a bathing pool. On a table various fruits were arranged, and my stomach reminded me that I’d not eaten anything since shipboard rations at dawn. “What is there to eat, other than fruit?”

“Please, sit,” Charis indicated the couch nearest the pool. “I will bring.”

She disappeared through an arch at the far end of the room, returning with a tray. She knelt in front of me, offering the tray up, and I looked thoughtfully at the contents before making a selection, some kind of baked pastry with meat. “Have no fear,” ventured Charis. “All this I prepared myself, with things fresh from the market this morning.”

“It’s good,” I agreed. She set the tray on a nearby table, and poured a greenish liquid into a goblet. “Here, fruit juice.”

I sipped gratefully, wondering how long it would take Amsi to keep his promise about the wine.

Charis watched as I ate, and I waved at the tray. “Please, help yourself.”

She hesitantly picked up a small pastry, nibbling it delicately, and I started to relax, thinking about my mission here. To put it bluntly, I was a spy. Ostensibly I was here to engage in diplomacy with Pharaoh, but no concrete results — treaties, military ventures — were expected. Instead my real work would be to identify factions, anyone disaffected but with potential political power, or even those on the inside of Pharaoh’s court who could be suborned…

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps, and Charis got quickly to her feet. I recognised the new arrival as one of the chair-carriers, and he made the now-expected kneeling gesture toward me before handing his burden to Charis and turning to go.

“Wine,” Charis explained. I nodded, picking up a goblet from the table, unstoppering the skin she held, splashing red liquid into the goblet, raising it to my lips… “No!” exclaimed Charis, setting the wineskin grup sex hurriedly down and putting her fingers over mine on the stem of the goblet.

I let her take the cup from my hand, astounded. What excuse could a slave have for such an outburst?

She lowered her eyes. “Forgive me. It is my place to check the wine for poison before you drink.”

Understanding dawned, and I watched her raise the goblet to her mouth, the red liquid wetting her lips as she took a careful draught.

Her eyes widened. “It is good. It is very good — it must be Pharaoh’s own wine.”

I chuckled. “At least this first time, Amsi gives value for money.”

I reached for a second goblet, topping up both from the wineskin. “Charis, for that you have earned a proper drink.”

She hesitated, then drank again. “Thank you… Timon.”

I sipped, my palate agreeing with hers that this was very good wine indeed. “Water on my hands was very welcome, but what I’d really like is to bathe before I sleep.”

Charis nodded. “There are lotions and herbs, and even — what do you say? A strigil.”

I smiled wryly. “The strigil will not be needed. But lotions sound very pleasant.”

I continued to sip my wine, feeling myself relaxing even more, and finally I set down the goblet with its remaining dregs. “Thank you for the meal, Charis, and for saving me from my impulsiveness with the wine. How can I summon you in the morning, when I wake?”

Her lifted goblet paused in front of her lips, her face confused. “But you said you would bathe?”

“Yes, but –” I began, then realised the source of her confusion. “Ah, Charis, where I come from, bath attendants are male slaves.”

She allowed herself a tiny flash of contempt. “I am certain they are less well-trained than me. I will fetch what is needed.”

A familiar saying drifted into my mind as I watched her go. When in Rome…

I made my decision, getting to my feet and reaching for the straps of my leather cuirass, loosening them and laying aside the heavy garment. I pulled my tunic over my head, then bent to unwrap the leather straps criss-crossing my shins, finally shedding my sandals.

When I looked up, Charis had returned, and she watched with what seemed to be mild curiosity from the edge of the bathing pool. “The water is ready.”

I slipped into the steaming pool, noticing the fragrant herbs that now floated on the surface, and pushed my way through chest-high water to the shelf that was obviously provided for reclining. I lay back, my upper body now out of the water, and closed my eyes. “Mm — this is wonderful.”

I heard footsteps behind me, and I was unsurprised to feel cool lotion on my back and shoulders, then the touch of gentle fingers. “You have scars,” remarked Charis’s voice, a fingertip tracing one white-ridged line.

“What soldier does not, if he has actually served in battle?” I replied.

“Tell me, then, of these battles,” her voice was somehow wistful, as if she longed to hear of something beyond her own life.

“My longest assignment was in Britannia,” I began. “In the far North, where the people are small — smaller even than you — and they paint their skin blue. Their weapons are only bronze, but sharp — one caught me across the shoulder and cost me a month in Vindolanda.”

“Such small people, and you could hd porno not overcome them?” Charis’s voice was gently mocking as her fingers continued to smooth the fragrant lotion over my scarred back.

I snorted. “One as small as you, I could break in half without trying — unless you too carry a bronze blade.”

I heard the denial in her voice. “No blade. But I can still –“

Her small hands wrapped around my neck, and I felt them tighten as if to squeeze the life out of me. I tensed muscles, feeling her try harder but without success.

Perhaps the wine had affected me more than I knew, or the eunuch’s words had planted something in my mind, but I found myself reaching back, grasping Charis’s wrists, tumbling her over my head into the pool where she surfaced spluttering. “Be careful what games you play with me,” I cautioned mildly.

Charis swam towards me, and I realised with a start that her flimsy garment floated behind her on the surface, only the distorting ripples of the water now hiding her body from my eyes. “I like this game,” she murmured.

She reached me, her head only just out of the water as she stood on the bottom of the pool. She placed her palm flat on my chest, looking up at me with a mixture of apprehension and anticipation. “Do you have scars here too?” she murmured.

My long spell at sea with only the crew for company made the final decision for me, and I wrapped my arms around her, bending to press my mouth against hers in a manner that brooked no argument. For a split second she struggled, then as if something awoke in her, she returned the kiss, her hand again behind my neck but this time pulling her body against mine…

Finally I broke the kiss, scooping her into my arms and walking up the shallow steps out of the pool. My eyes searched the room, finding a sumptuous sleeping platform half-concealed behind a screen. I let Charis fall onto the embroidered throw that covered the bed, getting a squeak of surprise, then pushed my body between her thighs to open them. I watched her face as I pressed my hardness against her entrance, seeing a moment’s fear quickly overcome by desire, then a flash of pain, and finally satisfaction as my length filled her.

I began to move in her, and as if by instinct her hips flexed in response. All too soon I began to feel the irresistible pressure that could only have one ending, and I wrapped my arms tightly around the girl beneath me. She seemed to sense what was coming, turning her head to whisper in my ear. “Don’t hold back…”

I tipped over the edge, thrusting harder than I meant into her, and again I saw a hint of shock in her eyes as she felt me tense, spurt once then again, replaced immediately by a dreamy fulfilment as she slowly exhaled. “Ahh…”

We lay for long minutes in the same position, then I carefully eased off her, letting her move her thighs together. She stretched, smiling, then took a deep breath. “Do you wish me to return to the slave quarters for the night?”

I shook my head. “Charis, no, not after what we have shared. Unless you will be missed?”

It was her turn to shake her head in denial. “If I do not return, the slave master will simply assume that my… duties, require me to remain.”

I reached over to pull a thin sheet over our bodies. “Then let it be so…”

***

When I woke, she was propped on one elbow watching me. “I must prepare your morning meal. And if a visitor should come, they would not expect to find us –“

I nodded, and she slid gracefully from the bed and out of sight through the arch. I got up, splashing my face in the pool, then pulled on my clothes.

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